For a lot of people that grow up watching sports, the common childhood dream is to become a professional athlete.
And if we’re looking even further into this assumption, there’s a pretty good chance that you wanted to play for your hometown team.
Well, back on July 15, the Rochester Knighthawks made that dream a reality for one veteran defenseman come the 2020-21 season. The team acquired Mike Manley from the New York Riptide in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming 2020 NLL Entry Draft as well as additional fifth and sixth-round picks in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft.
Manley is originally from the Penn Yan area and grew up watching the former Knighthawks franchise. On top of his former ties to lacrosse here in Rochester, Manley is also a very familiar face as he is a New York State trooper by day, working right in the heart of the city and passes The Blue Cross Arena day in and day out.
“I work in the community and now I’m going to be able to play in the community,” said an elated Manley shortly after getting the call to come back and play right in his backyard.
Now playing professional lacrosse in Rochester isn’t all that new for the 32-year-old Manley, who spent parts of two seasons with the previous Knighthawks organization. In nine games between 2016 and 2019, he notched one assist and totaled 37 loose ball recoveries. Both seasons, though, were cut short due to injury, making him all the more ready to get a full season under his belt in the Flower City with the new-look Knighthawks.
“I’m very excited to be able to enjoy and have the opportunity to play a full season for this franchise,” Manley said when asked about coming back to Rochester.
Last season, he appeared in six games for the Riptide after being selected in the seventh round of the 2019 NLL Expansion Draft. In those six games with New York, he recorded eight penalty minutes and recovered 19 loose balls.
Being that the Knighthawks and Riptide were the two expansion teams entering the NLL last season, they found themselves in a similar situation as the year came winding down. As both teams ended up in last place within their respective divisions, they both were beginning to find a groove with the teams that they had put in place at the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign.
WATCH: CHECKING IN WITH MIKE MANLEY
Now as Manley is headed from one expansion team to another, he admits that it’s tough to be a brand-new franchise in a league such as the NLL.
“It’s always tough to come into a new franchise, but I think the Knighthawks did a great job with the guys that they picked, and they have great leadership.”
Naturally, being on the defensive end of the game, Manley is no stranger to the defensive leadership that the Knighthawks bring to the table. Of course, the one guy that immediately comes to mind when we all think of the Knighthawks defense is team captain Paul Dawson.
Manley has played with Dawson in the past and the Knighthawks’ newcomer was quick to add that he’s looking forward to being back in the presence of Dawson on the back end as his leadership skills are second to none.
“I’ve played with Pauly back in the day, and Paul’s leadership on the back end is phenomenal and I’m looking forward to playing with him again and the rest of the guys.”
We all know that Dawson is a big body that brings stability and versatility to the Knighthawks defense, and when it comes to Manley, he describes his defensive skillset a little differently. Manley wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s what he brings to the table but more so what the team needs as a whole from him out on the floor.
Being that Manley has much experience in the league and one of the older guys on the Knighthawks roster, his physicality and communication are two factors he relies on.
“For me, it’s my physicality and communication,” said Manley, a former two-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star selection and Defensive Player of the Year with the MLL’s Rochester Rattlers. “I’ve always been known to be able to do that. It’s two things that, being a fairly bigger guy, I’m used to doing and I enjoy those matchups in indoor and outdoor.”
On top of his physicality and communication, Manley admittedly takes pride in his strength and endurance after overcoming the injuries that he’s endured.
“I take a lot of pride in my strength and my endurance,” said Manley, who was a member of the Chrome Lacrosse Club this summer in the Premier Lacrosse League. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve prepared my body more and especially going through some injuries you really got to focus on your body and your recovery.”
The time for Manley to display his skillset on the floor will come as soon as the 2020-21 season gets underway. Until then, the veteran defenseman is looking forward to being one of the older guys on the team and embarking on this unique opportunity that the Knighthawks have given him entering his seventh year in the league.
“In this league, there’s quite a few guys playing in their 30s and I’m one of them. Just to be able to continue playing the game at my age, I never imagined that. Especially growing up in Penn Yan and watching the Knighthawks and watching these guys play and win championships back in the day – it’s a unique opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”